Temperatures are rising, vegetation is suffering, entire animal species are becoming extinct - by the end of the century, the human species could also be affected if nothing is done to avert the peak of the crisis we are already in. What we need? Innovative ideas to reduce CO2 emissions, increased public awareness followed by a change in consumer behavior, more nature and fewer corporations destroying it for the sake of profit.
This year's conference, organized by the student initiative SensAbility at WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management and moderated by Gerrit McGowan, Managing Director of the WHU Entrepreneurship Center, looked at the background, hurdles and prospects for success of sustainable entrepreneurship from all sides. Since its debut in 2010, SensAbility - The WHU Impact Summit has functioned as a platform for international students, companies, young professionals, and investors. As is customary, the program included inspiring lectures, practical workshops, panel discussions, and an aptly named Pitch Battle followed by an award ceremony and numerous networking opportunities.
"We do not just plant trees, but also hope and a future."
Leading by example is the European search engine Ecosia, whose concept was outlined by company founder Christian Kroll in an inspiring keynote speech. In green letters, the now 80-strong team has "revolution" written on its flag, but unlike various previous examples in European history, this is to take place peacefully. Ecosia sees the most effective weapon in the fight against climate change as the promotion of the tree population. The company has already planted 122 million trees since it was founded in 2009. Only specimens which have survived the first three years of life are counted in this number. To achieve a sustainable impact, the tree plantations are still monitored years after they have been established, whether by drone imagery or on-site project visits. Kroll summed up the company's social motivation as follows: "Some companies plant trees to make money. We make money to plant trees."
At the end of his presentation, Kroll referred the future company founders among the participants to Project Drawdown. The corresponding website presents concrete start-up ideas that have yet to be addressed, or that have yet to be adequately addressed.
How can companies prioritize sustainable transformations?
Representatives from companies like BOSCH, HENKEL, adidas and IKEA addressed this question in the first panel discussion. The consensus was that the first difficulty lies in determining at which points in the (sometimes) long supply and value chain what proportion of CO2 emissions is generated. The second step is to reduce these emissions. The biggest challenge here, they argued, is the current lack of technology necessary for breakthrough innovations. These types of developments require close collaboration between social startups, academia and supplier companies.
"The cost of acting responsibly today outweighs the cost of acting irresponsibly tomorrow," Philipp Günther of BOSCH put it succinctly. Katarzyna Dulko-Gaszyna of IKEA added: "Sustainability cannot be viewed as a luxury."
Circular economy - The future of value creation?
In the second panel discussion, company representatives from TETRA PAK, LANDBEL and SYSTEMIQ addressed the question of how a circular economy can prevent waste. The consensus was that there is no alternative to a changeover to a circular economy. Commitment is required from companies to enable an innovation strategy for circular value chains. Politicians are responsible for creating the right framework conditions and establishing regulatory mechanisms, but consumers must also be sufficiently informed to be able to do their part.